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Kurt Busch reborn at Phoenix Racing

23 December 2011

Former Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch has found a new team for 2012, just weeks after his departure "by mutual agreement" from Penske Racing at the start of the month.

Busch has signed to race with Phoenix Racing to run a full 36-race Cup schedule next year, beginning in February with the non-points Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway where he is the defending winner.

"I'm very happy to join Phoenix Racing and after entertaining a lot of quality offers, there's no better place for me," said Busch in a statement announcing the deal. "We're going to run the full schedule together, and we're going to have fun doing it."

Adding that "I just want to get back to having fun in the race car," Busch continued: "It's going to be old-school racing, where we show up, race hard and go for the win. And if we don't win, we'll go back to the shop, work hard and do it all over again next week. That's the way we all started racing, and it's great to get back to that."

Phoenix Racing is a small operation consisting of under 20 employees, but it is provided with its racing equipment by Hendrick Motorsports and is considered to be one of the strongest independent teams lacking a big name driver to front its campaign - at least it was until the news of Busch's signing broke. Phoenix has 13 NASCAR series victories to its credit since it started in 1990, including a single Cup race victory after Brad Keselowski won for the team at Talladega in April 2009.

Busch will replace Landon Cassill, who raced for the team throughout 2011, and will inherit Nick Harrison as his crew chief. The #51 car finished the last season in 30th position in owner points while Busch himself finished in 11th place in the Chase, and team boss James Finch stressed that he was looking for Busch's signing to lead to bigger things for the small team in 2012.

"All we want to do is win," said Finch. "Winning is why I've been in racing for as long as I have, but NASCAR is a very competitive sport, and winning - especially at the Sprint Cup level - is hard. But now with Kurt Busch as our driver, we have a shot to win every week. He's a past champion and he's proven he can win everywhere."

"With Kurt in the car, all we want for Christmas is a Chase spot and a couple of wins," added Phoenix Racing general manager Steve Barkdoll.

Finch will have to live down his words from two weeks ago following the news of Busch's split with Penske, when he told ESPN that if he's been in Roger Penske's position and been embarrassed by Busch's behaviour as Penske had been, "he would have gotten his ass beat on pit road." He had added: "He's one of the best there is, but I'm not going to listen to that s*** and pay him money."

But speaking to FoxSport.com after news of the signing this week, Finch was taking a rather different line and promised: "I told Kurt, 'I won't fire you, and you won't quit' ... We'll do whatever it takes."

Busch revealed that he had been talking with several teams including Michael Waltrip Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports. He confirmed via Twitter that he had been offered a firm deal to drive the RPM #43 car (previously driven by AJ Allmendinger who has moved to Penske to fill Busch's old seat in the #22) before deciding to sign with Phoenix instead.

If Busch really can deliver some race-winning performances for Phoenix, not only will it be a huge breakthrough for the team, but it could also lead to a quick renaissance in Busch's NASCAR fortunes and a return to a championship-winning car in quick order.

One man unlikely to be happy by the news of Busch's signing at Phoenix is David Ragan, who was rumoured to be the team's first choice for their 2012 driver until Busch became available. With seat opportunities rapidly dwindling, Ragan will have to hope that he can take over the #43 car at RPM instead.

Meanwhile Landon Cassill was also having to hit the situations vacant after the news that his former seat had gone to Busch, but he said that the move had come as no surprise. "I kind of saw something like this coming, whether it was David Ragan or Kurt Busch," said Cassill. "James gave me an incredible opportunity last year in my first season in the Cup Series, but there's no guarantees right now in the sport."


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